Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Institute of Sport and Recreation Management

  The Institute is an educational charity established in 1921 by the Department of Health to regulate the use and control of swimming pools. As the nature of sport and recreation in society has changed with time so has the Institute's today our charitable objectives are:

  To promote for the public benefit facilities and opportunities to encourage participation in sport and other recreational activities in the interest of Health and Social Welfare.

  We achieve these aims through providing education and training and qualifications for those who work and manage sporting facilities.

  The Institute has over 1,400 members who manage sports facilities and departments mainly in the public sector, together with 400 members of the National Association for Sports Development who develop sport in communities and nearly 300 corporate members, organisations who own or who are concerned with the operation of sports facilities.

Institute Representative

  I am Ralph Riley, Chief Executive of the Institute: I am also, Chair of the National Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group, Chair of the National Swimming Forum, UK expert on the European Committee for the Safety of Swimming Pools and an executive director of the Industry Training Organisation for Sport and Recreation and of the Swimathon Foundation. For 25 years, I managed and directed sport and recreation services in the public sector.


Importance to history

  At the turn of the last century this country was very concerned that public health suffered through poor hygiene and a lack of facilities where health and hygiene could be improved, this concern gave cause to the establishment in municipalities of the public swimming bath. The majority of these buildings are now gone and with them a significant feature of our history. It is the view of the Institute that historic swimming pools that are good examples of these early swimming pools should be preserved for posterity. Tragically we have lost many of the best examples including "lidos" that were once such an important aspect of our leisure time activity in Britain after the Great War.

  It would be difficult to run most of these deserving buildings viably so if they are to be retained then special funding should be provided to the local authorities that own them.


  Whilst these pools can never reflect today's modern pools standards particularly with regard to pool hygiene, with a little adaptation and ingenuity most could still be used to provide a useful swimming pool function for the communities in which they are located. Some will require special preservation methods for swimming pool structures suffer over time due to their exposure to humidity and damp conditions. On the other hand many are very robust buildings built to standards far higher than those we use today with engineering based on some of the finest examples borrowed from our nations proud ship building traditions. As Chair of the National Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group and a former operator of pools of this type, I can see no reason why these pools cannot meet satisfactory pool water and hygiene standards.


Swimming for all

  Swimming is an activity that nearly everyone can take part in from the very elderly to tiny babies, from the supremely fit to people with disabilities and medical conditions. People swim for fitness, for sport, and for fun. There are many specialist activities that take place in swimming pools for example, competitive swimming and diving, water polo, sub aqua, life saving, synchronised swimming, aquarobics, canoe practice, mother and babies, ante natal exercise and movement and hydro therapy. Swimming is one of the few forms of exercise that is suitable for the obese. Obesity costs the country hundreds of millions of pounds each year in National Health Service costs, 60 per cent of the population are overweight. Swimming as a preventative measure and as part of a rehabilitation programme to fight obesity has the potential to release vital efficiency gains for the health service.

Scale of provision

  We have over 1,400 public swimming pools in England and over 2,300 school swimming pools. A number of recent reports from Sport England and Sport Scotland have identified that many of these pools are approaching a critical time. The majority of our public pools were built in the early 1970s and are now 30 years old. In a great many cases they have not been maintained properly as a result of available funding and in consequence are now unappealing, outdated and dilapidated. To maintain our existing swimming stock will require around £2 billion, to maintain our existing stock of sport and recreation buildings in communities that includes swimming pools requires £4 billion. Even then the sad fact is that the Country is the poor relation in comparison to most other contemporary countries in terms of sporting provision. It is estimated that to achieve the sport and recreation facilities required to serve the needs of our population would take an additional investment of £10 billion. These figures are provided from the finance companies currently preparing bids for PPP schemes for sport and recreation in local authorities.

  Local authorities' net expenditure on sport and leisure is £1.5 billion a year, £300 million of which is spent on swimming pools and sports halls with swimming pools. The Government's annual income from taxes on sport is £4.185 billion.


  Swimming is extremely popular today particularly with adults who take part in lane or fitness swimming. The new Commonwealth Pool in Manchester for example devotes 70 per cent of pool time to this activity and is likely to achieve a throughput this year of 750,000 swims. The Manchester pool can only do this because it is designed for good community use, it has two 50 metre pools and a 25 metre diving pool all of which have moveable floors and booms, it also has a fun area for kids to play in, so can be used for a wide variety of community and sporting activities. All swimming pools should incorporate safe areas of water for small children, this means providing plenty of water space below 1.2 metres in depth, ideally integrated in a separate learner pool that gives added security and safety. Leisure water and fun features incorporated into pools are also useful in providing the initial focus of children's attention that can be nurtured into a love for swimming. Flexibility in design is important for pools in the UK as our pools are very intensively used. We don't have for example the climate to support outdoor pools that feature so prominently in many other countries.

  We estimate that there are over three billion visits made to swimming pools in the UK every year. The main growth area in swimming is in fitness swimming and to some extent children's swimming has declined for unless you have flexible designs like the Manchester pool then it is difficult for children's play to co-exist with lane swimming.

Child swimming concerns

  A further reason we suspect for a reduction in swimming in children is the extent that children learn to swim in school. The issues concerning school swimming are access, funding and strategy. In terms of access and funding it is clear from the Ofsted report that inner city and urban schools could not afford to teach swimming. There were pools available for them but they could not afford to access them. Yet quite often what prevents access is in reality a paper transaction, a transfer of funds from a school or LEA to a local authority sports department to reflect the revenue cost of the school using the swimming pool.

The role of public swimming provision

  Public swimming pools are provided from the public purse, people pay for them and like hospitals, schools, parks and roads people should be entitled to use them for public good.

  This means that if we really care for and love our children and if we are a truly civilised society then we should ensure all children become swimmers and water safe. So the facilities we provide to teach children should be theirs by right. That this principle should be denied by what amounts to a book transaction, a notional transfer of funds, is evidentially nonsense. Why should a school or an LEA pay a local authority for the use of a public swimming pool? All are publicly funded bodies; the money comes from the same pot! To move to a more enlightened position would of course require that public pools be recognised as part of the fundamental infrastructure of society just like schools, roads, parks and hospitals but as a civilised society isn't this recognition long overdue!

Swimming in school

  The role of school swimming requires greater emphasis in the school programme, we recommend that:

    —  swimming is a life skill and for this reason should occupy a unique place within the school teaching programme and is one of the fundamental reasons why swimming pools are provided and operated by local authorities to benefit their communities;

    —  Local Authorities and or Local Education Authorities should be responsible and accountable for the development and delivery of a strategy for school swimming that addresses the requirements of the National Curriculum. Those who are responsible for the operation and programming of pools are best placed to co-ordinate this work to make best use of scarce resources and ensure that the scheme benefits from any economies of scale;

    —  Key Stage 2 attainment targets should always be regarded and referred to as a starting point and not as proof of swimming competence. We suspect that children do not learn to swim as well under the Key Stage 2 requirement as they did in previous years, the result is that they do not feel confident enough to, later on outside school, pursue swimming as a leisure time activity or sport;

    —  provision for school swimming lessons in local authority pools should be written into the Strategy and Best Value requirements for all pools as a right, not as a discretion. This philosophy needs to be recognised in the funding arrangements for pools in order that prohibitive costs are not passed on to schools simply to meet budget requirements when no matter which agency meet these costs the funding is from the "public purse"; and

    —  better links need to be developed from school swimming to swimming as a sporting and recreational activity for children by providing inducements to children to use swimming pools and by providing developmental pathways. The best examples of this are currently Glasgow with their free swimming policy for all children under the age of 16 and a number of local authorities who grant free or greatly subsidised swimming use for those children who achieve the Key Stage 2 requirement. In a recent study when children were asked whether there was enough to do in the area where they live, in all age groups two thirds said no, in the 15-17 age group 80 per cent said no!

Swimming and individualisation

  Will Hutton recently stated "Mass participation in sport would make us all healthier; it would produce a stronger sense of community, and help reduce social exclusion and personal alienation".

  "We are living in an age in which the old parameters of social class and local community are breaking down. The nine-to-five, secure, Monday to Friday, 40-hour-a-week job is disappearing. Families are splitting and being remade; within 10 years, 40 per cent of children will live in stepfamilies. Thirty per cent of men now work for 48 hours or more; weekend work is becoming commonplace. Fewer and fewer of us know who lives in our street. We shop, work and spend our leisure time within our own networks well beyond where we live. But as these old sources of identity change, so we are forced to become the creators of own identity, if we are to make any sense of our lives. The rise in interest in personal fitness and well-being is part of a much wider trend in which we are insisting on the primacy of our own choices as the way to assert meaning in a world where so much is in flux. Divorce, the growth in designer clothes and the boom in personal fitness clubs have common roots in what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck calls `individualisation'."

  "If these are the factors underpinning the trends in sport, then the thrust of policy should be to develop a public infrastructure for more individual sports participation. There are too few public swimming pools, for example, and most of them are far too expensive with disastrously unsavoury changing rooms. Most public leisure centres cannot match private health and fitness clubs in their facilities; we need better. In short, we should go with the grain of people's sports interests. It will involve more public money than has so far been earmarked; but it will reap much richer dividends."

Swimming charges

  The Government has allocated funds to enable trustees of admission charging national museums to offer free entrance for children from April 1999 and for over 60's from April 2000. The widening of free access will mean that about 20 million people can visit the national Museums and Galleries free of charge, with around two million people being over the age of 60 and around 4.5 million children under the age of 16. The first year of the free access for children to all the Department's previously charging Museums and Galleries has seen an increase in children's visits of almost a fifth on the previous year. Further measures to enhance access for the public as a whole are planned for next year. Under the Government's "Quids In" proposals, the adult entry charge at the charging national museums will be cut to £1 from September 2001.

  The case for a similar treatment for public swimming and sport and recreation is even greater. If free access to our national treasures is justifiable on the grounds that it provides benefits to us all as a society then aren't the benefits of sport and recreation even more tangible and overwhelming? What greater treasure is there than the health-giving and life-preserving potential of swimming?

Delivering to a wider agenda

  Today many local authorities are moving their facilities into trusts for the principle reason of avoiding paying rates and VAT. What on earth are these services doing paying such taxes in the first place? Swimming can provide real tangible benefits to both individuals and the communities in which they live, including huge savings in health service costs. What sense is there in putting up barriers through taxation to local authorities in providing and operating services when they can deliver such benefits to the nation's economy?

  We need to give greater recognition to the role that community-swimming provision can play in society if we care about the future of sport and the health and future of our children. We need to capitalise on the high profile that swimming has in the popularity stakes with young children and translate interest into action. We need to continue and advance programmes that break down the barriers, which result in gender inequities. Swimming and sport has a major role to play in the new social agenda it can have a unique and significant influence in such cross-cutting issues as health, community development, personal development and self esteem, literacy and numeracy, national and local pride, equity and harmony, crime and social inclusion. But first we need to harness it, and then structure to use this power for good, in the most effective way.

The role of the professional

  The ISRM believe that fundamental to this whole process is the effective management of pools in a way that ensures they provide a meaningful role in the communities. Pools also need managing for safety and to ensure that the swimming environment is conducive to health promoting activity. Society has the right to expect that the professional pool manager is technically proficient, with the knowledge, understanding and competence covered by their profession, to demonstrate integrity and high standards of ethical behaviour and to apply their professional skills in ways which are relevant to the changing contexts in which they work. The reality is that anyone can operate a pool without any of the necessary knowledge skills or training. ISRM is the professional body that provides qualifications for sport and recreation managers and aims to promote greater recognition and awareness from the providers of swimming and sports facilities together with national and local regulatory bodies of the importance of our training and qualification programmes.


The structure

  If the nation is ever to be successful in competitive swimming then we need a number of basic provisions. Firstly we need to give all children the opportunity to shine, so that means getting swimming established in the school curriculum to the extent that children can pursue developmental pathways from learning to swim to competitive swimming, initially locally and then on to regional and national structures.

Time and opportunity

  In providing these pathways there must be water time in which to learn and train and compete, there must be people available with expertise to teach and coach and there must be a competitive structure in place which usually means a competitive swimming club who the progressing swimmer can join and look for guidance and opportunities to develop further.

  Given that the schools provide the basic learning and the ASA the teacher's, coaches and competition the aspect of this structure that is of greatest concern to the ISRM is access to water time.

Financial targets

  Nearly all public pools operate at a financial deficit and with local authorities increasingly under pressure financially swimming pools must seek to manage their deficit to minimum levels. For many this means operating very commercially, maximising the opportunities to earn income often at the expense of providing a balanced programme of swimming provision. Elite swimmers require a lot of water time to practise often two to three hours a day. To be successful a competitive swimming club needs to offer water time to its members at popular times when the local authority pool operator is reluctant to turn away a more lucrative form of use.

Increased local authority commitment

  The only answer to local authorities providing time for competitive swimmers to practise and for competitive clubs to function is to develop a swimming strategy that recognises these needs and provides for them by increased public subsidy. This can take a number of forms for example providing more flexible pools that can be used for a variety of different purposes through the use of moveable floors and booms, but this is long term and costly. Inevitably it will also mean pool operators providing substantial time in the swimming programme when competitive swimmers can practice and clubs can function at an affordable cost that promotes rather than prohibits. This is one of the wicked issues that beset Best Value in local authorities for although it is perfectly feasible to develop a swimming strategy that meets the needs of developing participation through to excellence it is only possible to do so through increased public subsidy and may impact upon the wider community use of pools.

Success has a price

  Our nation has a proud history in competitive swimming and if we are to give the swimmers of today and tomorrow the opportunities for success then we need to provide them with the resources equal to and beyond that of their competitors in other countries. There is more than national pride at stake here, children, need role models, heroes that can inspire them to do great things with their own lives. We desperately need swimming heroes, if for example you were asked to name the nation's top swimmers most people we know would come up with names from the past like Sharron Davies, Anita Lonsbrough, Duncan Goodhew and Adrian Moorhouse. Very few people could name the top swimmers from the today's elite squad even though they are extremely worthy of such fame and recognition.

26 November 2001

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